This month, we tend to focus on productivity, new habits, and optimism about the future. It’s no wonder, then, that January is also International Creativity Month. A new year naturally opens fresh possibilities, new horizons, and novel ideas. But, did you know that many developed countries currently suffer a creativity crisis? Surprising, I know, especially with all the technological innovation going on. It seems that older generations were actually more creative, so we need to understand their wisdom for how to promote creativity.
Obviously, those responsible for the current technology boom come from the Baby Boomer and GenX generations. What can these generations teach us about how to promote creativity? Why have creativity scores fallen every year since 1990? What role does creativity play in a world becoming more and more automated? Let’s find out some answers.
Why Creativity is Important
Creativity impacts all of society
When we think of creativity, we often think of art, especially the visual arts. However, creativity embraces far more than that. Inventors, innovators, engineers, architects, scientists and chefs require creative problem-solving abilities that go beyond artistic genius. And creative thinking equals whole brain thinking. It is not a right brain task only. To solve problems using new, innovative solutions, we need divergent, creative thinking. And we also need to be able to take all those divergent possibilities and converge on a real, workable solution. All sectors of society and culture suffer the consequences when we cannot address health, economics, politics, agriculture, science, urban planning, and more using innovative strategies for improvement and change. Unfortunately, the creativity of our youth has been declining since 1990, according to objective test measures.
Creativity impacts mental health
This decline, is of course, most marked in our youngest children. And not only is a lack of creativity a concern for society, but it also affects the mental health of the youth themselves. Young people who see all that can go wrong but cannot come up with alternative solutions to address those possibilities more often fall into despair. Not surprisingly, suicide rates among 14-17 year-olds rose 60% over the last 10 years, according to a recent study. Some attribute this rise to the corresponding rise in the use of smartphones and social media.
And that certainly can be a contributing factor since the use of these devices tends to inhibit creative thinking, not promote it. In addition, this technology tends to effectively isolate people who rely on social media instead of face-to-face connection. Isolation breeds loneliness and loneliness breeds depression.
But, smartphones don’t just impact relationship with others. They also inundate everyone with up-to-the-minute information about everything that’s going on in the world. Young people are not emotionally and mentally equipped to handle the barrage of doom and gloom thrown at them. Couple that with a lack of meaningful connection, add in an inability to exercise flexible thinking and envision real solutions, and well…..
How to Promote Creativity to Curb the Crisis
So, as homeschooling families, do we know how to promote creativity in our homes? How can we encourage problem-solving skills, flexible thinking, divergent thinking, brainstorming, and novel ideas? Here are some ideas. Although it’s not an exhaustive list, hopefully it will get your creative juices flowing. Maybe it will even lead you to change your style of homeschooling to incorporate more creativity naturally.
The power of play
Playing isn’t just for the little ones and pretending isn’t the only form of play. Older children (ages 8+), if encouraged, often have the richest form of creative imagination. They can create entire worlds in which they role play for hours at a time. The play of small children often mimics things they have seen and heard or experienced. Even if stuffed animals ride their trains or enjoy a tea party, they simply stand in as human-like companions. To encourage creative play and initiative, small children should play with a variety of open-ended toys. Academics can wait and excellence will be greatly enhanced by waiting. Read more about what to teach preschoolers here. And, here are some ideas for incorporating the arts into your little child’s life.
In contrast, older children construct their imaginary activities from pure fantasy. These complete worlds have their own rules, plots, problems, and characters that may exist only in their imaginations. Role-play games are often popular with this age group.
Their play activities require lots of free time, which many children this age don’t get. However, it is within these worlds that children get to experiment with possibilities, problem-solve, and arrive at novel solutions. They have the opportunity to try out ideas without incurring risk. By using their imagination, they exercise their creative muscle. They ask the all important, “What if?”
If they are allowed plenty of time for this immersive imaginative play, parents will be rewarded with a teen who can think creatively about abstract ideas. This ability is the number one leadership trait desired by businesses as these young adults head out into the world.
Kids need to use their all senses to develop their thinking abilities, particularly movement. The movement center of the brain holds 70% of all the brain’s neurons! 70%! So, the more movement, the more connections it makes to the other parts of the brain, especially the frontal lobe, or thinking and emotions part. If all children do is sit and press buttons, connections are lost. In fact, recent research shows that kids who sit and stare at a screen for 7+ hours a day exhibit premature thinning of the brain’s cortex. Kids need to move! Get them dancing, running, climbing, swinging, throwing, jumping, stomping. Give them musical instruments, magnifying glasses, water, sand, and other exploration tools. One of the easiest ways to encourage hands-on play and movement is to get them outdoors in wild places as much as possible. Click here if you’re curious about the benefits of outdoor play.
Get some additional unplugged homeschool ideas for promoting creativity that you can do as a family.
I once taught a short story unit for a high school literature class. The students were used to vocabulary questions and class discussions centering on plot, character, and literary devices. While there’s a place for such lessons, I wished to challenge the students by asking deeper questions. I figured that anyone could answer plot and character questions just by reading Cliff’s notes or something similar. I didn’t want answers from the internet. Way too often we ask older children and teens questions whose answers can easily be found anywhere. What about asking real questions, such as,
- Why is this story important? What lessons does it teach us about the human condition?
- If one of the characters responded differently, how would the story have changed? How does this affect you on a personal level?
What if we stopped asking questions that have only one answer?
Instead of asking 2+2=?, we could ask, “How many different ways can you get 4 as an answer?” Allow children to work in groups. Don’t let them stop at 2 or 3 possibilities, because in fact, there are limitless ways one can get 4 as an answer! And, that’s the whole point. One way of teaching math only engages the lowest levels of thinking, while the other ignites their imagination!
What if we answered students’ questions with our own questions?
Instead of shutting down their thinking by simply answering them, we can spark more curiosity. I wouldn’t do this every time. Children get weary. But, at least some of the time, we can say, “You know that’s a good question. What do you think the answer to that is?” And after they make a guess, we can say, “Hmm. Let’s see if you’re right.” And, if it turns out that your child is wrong, maybe together, you can think of circumstances in which s/he might be correct.
Incorporate asking questions into lesson time
Children often stop asking questions by the time they reach high school. That’s a shame because that’s about the time when they are most mentally equipped to research and answer their own questions. Encouraging teens to ask questions about history and science particularly can not only keep that creative spark alive, but continue to cultivate a love of learning. These subjects are not about memorizing facts. Science is about curiosity, discovery, and problem-solving. History, too, is not about a bunch of facts. History teaches us about ourselves. It is His Story–our story–and the more we delve into it, the more we understand human nature and patterns of behavior unfold before us.
Work on solving wholistic, cross-disciplinary problems
One of the best ways for how to promote creativity in homeschool lessons is to pose cross-disciplinary problems for your kids to solve. After all, real life isn’t divided into neat categories and topics. Science and art intersect. Politics, history, and science bleed into one another, too. An environmental science problem is often a geopolitical and economic problem as well. This type of project-based learning is best done with children aged 10 and up, but even younger children should get exposure. Some examples of how to promote creativity through projects include:
- How can we grow enough food for the population of a country that is cold and dry most of the year without importing?
- Figure how to provide power for a small impoverished city without access to power plants.
- Come up with some ways to recycle all the books people read each year that can’t be donated to a library.
A List of Tools to Promote Creativity in Your Home
I have compiled a list of resources to help you promote creativity in your home. I will continue to add to this list as I find new tools, so check back often and don’t forget to join the Creativity Challenge at the bottom of this post.
Many of the toy recommendations listed here can be classified as “Waldorf” toys and may seem old-fashioned. But remember, the most creative generations alive grew up during a time when there were no computers or video games and far fewer talking toys. Children commanded more of their own free time, too, as after school programs usually consisted of Little League and that’s about it.
Toys and supplies for small children
Small children’s play tends to imitate what they see, hear, and experience in everyday life. In children ages 5-7, play expands into novel situations, such as pirates or fairies.
- Blocks and a variety of building toys in different shapes (such as offering both Tegu and K’Nex), especially ones not featuring commercially licensed movies or characters
- Dolls and stuffed animals
- Play Silks and dress-up clothes (even adult sized clothes from a thrift store work)
- Play food and kitchen items
- Manual cars and trucks (not the talking, remote-controlled ones)
- Musical instruments
- Art supplies: crayons, paint, modeling clay
- Exploration supplies: magnifying glass, bug houses
Toys, supplies, and games for older children
As mentioned above, children ages 8-12 play more imaginatively and with greater sophistication than younger children. Novelty play is the norm in children ages 8-10, complete with their own sets of rules and complex storylines. They are also capable of some higher level thinking, with their abilities becoming more and more adult-like as they reach age 13. Play materials that encourage experimentation, investigation, problem-solving, and creating should be preferred. Games that involve strategy over simply rolling a die and moving pieces should also be preferred. Here are my favorites.
- Settlers of Catan and Kingdom Builder plus others that promote strategy
- More sophisticated building toys like Zome Tools and K’Nex
- Science equipment: telescope, microscope, underwater scope, water net, plant press, etc.
- Carpentry tools and sewing supplies
- Handicrafts: felting, weaving, crochet, knitting, quilling, jewelry-making, clay sculpting, stenciling, chain maille, woodworking, wood burning, painting, etc.
- And, they do continue to imagine with play silks, empty boxes, and other open-ended materials as well.
Subscription boxes such as–
Groovy Labs My favorite thing about these boxes (and what sets them apart from other STEM boxes) is that they encourage creative thinking and problem solving around a real world issue. They include all the supplies to create a STEM project, but then they also have an open-ended element that simulates the engineering process. Very cool.
Think Outside Box My favorite thing about these boxes is that they encourage older kids to get outside and explore using real tools and relevant activities. They, too, encourage critical thinking and creativity.
For some additional great ideas for open-ended play, check out this post on Blog She Wrote and this post from BJ’s Homeschool.
And, if you’re wondering how you can make this work for high school, check out this post. She walks you through the process of giving your child high school credit for those passion-based, creative pursuits. I also talk about high school passion projects and immersive, creative learning, so be sure to check that out, too.
These are just a few suggestions to get you going. Want some more help with specific inexpensive ideas you can do today? Sign up below.
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